Food Assistance Reduces Number of Children Living in Poverty

Food assistance does more than help ensure that children don’t go hungry; it reduces the number of children living in poverty, according to a new report by The Urban Institute. That’s because when families receive support from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) they are more likely to have resources available to meet other basic needs.

What is notable about the report, Antipoverty Effects of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is that researchers accounted for the underreporting of SNAP benefits. Underreporting occurs when households do not report receiving SNAP when surveyed. The authors note that this may happen as a result of stigma, confusing survey questions, the timing of the survey, among other reasons.

To determine SNAP’s impact on poverty, researchers used the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which the US Census Bureau began publishing in 2011. The SPM takes into account where people live when calculating the cost of living, the impact of several federal programs, and other influences on a family’s budget.

Official Poverty Measure Supplemental Poverty Measure
Measurement units Families and unrelated individuals All related individuals who live at the same address, including and coresident unrelated children who are care for by the family (such as foster children) and any cohabitors and their children
Poverty threshold Three times the cost of minimum food diet in 1963 The 33rd percentile of expenditures on food, clothing, shelter and utilities of consumer units with exactly two children multiplied by 1.2
Threshold adjustments Vary by family size, composition, and age of householder Geographic adjustments for differences in housing costs and a three parameter equivalence scale for family size and composition
Updating thresholds Consumer Price Index: all items Five year moving average of expenditures on food, clothing, shelter and utilities
Resource measure Gross before-tax cash income Sum of cash income, plus in-kind benefits that families can use to meet their food, clothing, shelter and utilities needs, minus taxes (or plus tax credits), minus work expenses, minus out-of-pocket medical expenses

Source: US Census Bureau

Highlights of the findings include:

  • SNAP reduced the number of children in poverty 28 percent
  • The reduction in deep poverty was highest among children: SNAP reduced the number of children in deep poverty 49 percent. (Deep poverty is defined as below half of the SPM level.)
  • SNAP reduced poverty in working families 21 percent.
  • Poverty fell nearly a quarter (24 percent) in nonmetropolitan areas because of SNAP
  • About 40 percent (3.4 million) of the people removed from poverty by SNAP live in the South.

More than half of households (51.8 percent) in North Carolina that received SNAP in 2015 had a child. The program served 82.9 percent of those eligible for benefits in North Carolina in 2015. SNAP provided about $2.25 billion dollars in food benefits to a monthly average of 1,568,387 people in North Carolina in Fiscal Year 2016. SNAP also has an economic multiplier effect; every dollar in new SNAP benefits results in $1.80 in total economic activity. (US Department of Agriculture, Profile of SNAP Households, January 2018)

Food security and living in poverty are both indicators included in the NC Pathways to Grade-Level Reading measures of success.

Programs that provide nutrition to children improve health, school performance and behavior. Malnutrition, undernutrition and inconsistent access to nutritious food in childhood can lead:

  • to” greater vulnerability to illness and physical impairments,
  • delays in development and stunted growth,
  • decreased learning ability,
  • lower levels of attention and increased behavior problems,
  • fatigue,
  • anxiety,
  • decreased motivation,
  • apathy,
  • compromised emotional development,
  • a higher frequency of school absence, and
  • lower academic performance.

Living conditions such as poverty can compromise children’s school success and healthy development. Poverty can limit opportunities for stimulating and responsive interactions, provision of emotional support, and exposure to activities that can enrich children’s health, knowledge and skills.

Download Profile of SNAP Households by NC Congressional District.